Protests, Oral Sex, Coming Out, Being “Kinda” Gay and Compassion. Wow. What Just Happened?

Wow. Never before and perhaps never again.

Let me explain.

I really like to keep all my classes organic -with a point. I want the point to be made- yet keep open all the infinite ways the means by which it may be made. Typically the weirder the better, as I find students remember concepts much more vividly.

Be careful when you get what you want.

The class began rather normally and I did not see what was coming. Not a clue. In my traditional courses -as opposed to my hybrid/online course where there is very limited room for flexibility- we have opportunity to meander and “Golden Snake” quite a bit, particularly on days like this one when we are in between delivering speeches.

In general, the climate of this class is normally subdued and mellow. Not a quiet class, yet not a loud class either. Some students in the 18 member group have never talked at all…with these students I am the speech dentist, attempting to extract thoughts from their brains as painlessly as possible.

Not today. No need.

I began the 3 hour course with a lecture/discussion on the positives and negatives of the use of public protest as a means of political action. Such a lecture is quite relevant for a public speaking course as said protests carry a form of public speaking, not to mention the political process is on the forefront of nearly everyone’s mind at the moment.

I suppose it was not surprising that the discussion began to get heated. Going against my natural wiring, I did not assert my thoughts and opinions very much…there was no need as the class was providing the required fodder for spirited debate and discussion. I had the pleasure of acting as more moderator than instigator, clarifier over invigorator, and referee not player.

As the class purged their opinions on the current political climate and protests specifically, the discussion took a turn in the direction of LGBTQ when a normally quiet student, a 19 year-old lesbian (we had no idea until that moment) declared she was recently kicked out of her house by her conservative father upon revealing she was homosexual.

We discussed. We opined. We pondered. We empathized. We cared.

Then the strangest thing happened. An older and much more vocal student, who dropped hints during the semester of his religious affiliations and somewhat eccentric nature, informed the class he was a homosexual for a few years and really enjoyed oral sex with men during that period…yet he is straight and married now.

What. The. Fuck.

Did Captain Inappropriate just strike or what?

Aside from the obvious general bewilderment as to why one would even offer up that information to an entire class…how does a person turn gay and then straight again? Did he just really say that? Why?

This then sparked a conversation about being “kinda gay” and the spectrum of sexuality.

Perhaps it was just me that was bewildered concerning this seemingly out-of-place and strange comment- but then the floodgates opened. Another rather quiet student in the back of the class opened up about how she was sexually assaulted within the past year and her parents instructed her to not talk about it or tell anyone. She began crying…and crying…and crying.

This student was not a drama queen. Conversely, she is a stoic, tough, and strong young lady.  As she broke down, she confessed that this behavior was all an act as she DOES care what people think, she IS hurt and that her strained relationship with her mother is killing her inside. She recently signed up for the military -to escape- and is not telling her mother until the day she leaves.

We listened. And as the class gently responded to her, the tones of their voices drenched with empathy and love, I realized one can be untruthful with words, yet tones do not lie. This was real.

Then an older student, the class matriarch if you will, who came over from the Sudan 14 years ago, got up out of her seat and walked over to her just to hold her in her arms, as if perfectly scripted and brilliantly blocked out. And yes, the poetry of a woman from a “banned” country being the source of unity and love did not escape me.

The class was silent. Yet even the most silent of students would gingerly chime in a comment…comments that were poignant, soothing, and well, brilliant, as if something beyond the totality of the present individuals were guiding their tongues and caressing their minds.

The open confessions kept coming. A man opened up concerning his 16 year-old daughter who was recently stalked by an older man and was attempting to arrange an illicit affair with her; a young man, who just moments earlier was defending the recent Berkeley protestors and was visibly distraught, confessed he was bisexual while suffering from anxiety and depression on a daily basis…and could NEVER tell his parents for fear they would disown him.

It seemed everyone’s personality changed to accommodate this powerful dynamic that was taking place: The loud were quiet, the quiet just loud enough, and the apathetic empathetic.

I manufactured nothing. It was as if I jumped on this train and went along for the ride.

It was the most powerful 3 hours in my nearly 30 years of teaching.

We all were looking at each other with the facial expression suggesting, “What is happening right now?”

This was so much more than a “hippie dippie” Kumbaya moment. It was the kind of moment people pay hundreds of dollars per hour to a therapist to achieve.

Then the father of the 16 year-old suggested that perhaps this 3 hour lecture went full circle. As we began the day discussing the MACRO benefits and costs of a protest, we now realize the point of any protest must eventually benefit the MICRO of each of our lives.

If a macro protest is not undertaken with the ultimate objective to enrich what really matters in all our lives, for all people, for all countries -family, friends, love, trust, support, ie, the micro, it might just be a misguided protest.

A class that was divided minutes earlier came together and unified as our attention focused on what really matters, no matter our political associations or beliefs.

The class ended and the students slowly began filing out the door, changed to be sure, realizing something very special had just taken place.

I like to keep my lectures organic -with a point. And, on some days, the point is even made for me.



  1. Wow! Excellent story i got goosebumps just reading it. I felt almost like I was in the moment and I’m sure those students will never forget that class session.

  2. Great post! I’m trying so hard to find things to argue with on your blog posts, and I mean this in the least brown-nosing way possible, but it’s really difficult!

  3. This experience is a testament to you, to your students, and to the human spirit (when we are able to find even a tiny crack between the protective layers). So inspirational!!

    • Thanks Dalia…I am a bit uncomfortable with so many complimenting ME when that was not the purpose of the blog at all. My style is my style and it certainly does not work for everyone. I tell my classes all the time that if I had me as the 53 1/2 year-old professor when I was 19, I would have dropped the course. We all were just so fortunate that for one class everything clicked…I just wonder how many times my style has gotten in the way of classes potentially clicking before in the past and not. The good news is that when it works and students gravitate towards it, it REALLY works. But certainly not always and in every case. Thank you Dalia! I am betting you are delighted with the Trump/Netanyahu this morning!

  4. Thank you for being such a non-judgemental teacher so that students want to open up and feel safe doing so. This was important, thanks for sharing the moment. You do great things, professor.

  5. Don’t forget about him being a former witch as well Jimmy! I won’t forget that class period and I won’t soon forget you as a teacher Jim, the pleasure is all mine. See you on thrusday! 🙂

  6. It’s true that the “Protest-on-the-Macro” discussion evoked internal private protests. It’s actually a beautiful expression of the interrelatedness of micro/macro. So profound. And those moments are indeed sacred–can’t say I’ve ever had one in a group setting. How unforgettable. Thank you for writing about it …

  7. This was a beautiful story than sent chills through my whole body. What an amazing experience for you self and all the students, that I’m sure will be an unforgettable moment for all of you. It’s neat that you’re able to create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves and being open about personal experiences.

  8. Hey Jimmy after reading this and hearing about in class I thought more about it and felt while I have no issue with the topics being discussed in a lecture like that or personal stories shared I feel not so many people would be open to this type of lecture in class. I really feel like this worked well in this class because you had the right students who could conduct a lecture like this but it is debatable to say this could happen in everyone of your classes. I would like to think everyone would be able to have these type of moments in class because I really feel this is where a student can learn the most about not just education but life.

  9. Those are those moments that you won’t ever forget, It must of listed so much weight off of some of there chest’s to reveal there true sexuality. WOW to the once gay now I’m married with two kids. Say what? My first step dad was living a double life. He was cheating on my mom with men for eighteen years, She found out it was shaking to her. I always knew he was gay. All tell, tell sings were there. I was just angry that you lied to me my whole life and used us as a cover for your secret life. Crazy huh? I guess we all have stories. Oh and he just stopped talking to me one day. How can you be someones dad for over 20 years and then just cut me off? He’s so emotionally unavailable! Coward if you ask me! I even named my oldest son after him. His middle name is my step dads first name. He still see’s my son and is his grandpa to my first son but not my second son. I guess he never really loved us. Life happens! I can relate!

  10. I don’t disagree with this post or anything about it. I find it very interesting that everyone in your class came out during class. A lot of people talk about how hard it is to do such a thing. Yet everyone in your class felt comfortable enough and felt like your classroom was a safe environment. I have always felt that your class is always a safe area where people can really be themselves and express things they couldn’t to other people. When i first came to your class i was very closed minded. I didn’t really know much about the world and how people felt towards certain things. I’m happy to say your class has helped me be more understanding about different issues around me. I find it really intriguing that the girl from Sudan was the only one to go over and give her a hug. It goes to show that we are all going through something and sometimes the stuff you talk about in your class helps us relate in one way or another. Thanks for having a safe zone in your classroom. It really helps people open up. And it also helps closed minded people like me to learn a lot more about others.

  11. That was a Very expressive and interesting letter. You know I find because it’s “2017” the idea that people feel this perception should no longer exist is straight bull. I see nothing wrong with the student feeling this way. People take a stance for and against other positions so why should the subject of being part of the LGBT community have to be handled with white gloves. No different then a parent not being accepting of their child’s rocker boyfriend.

  12. It is brave of them to come out and express themselves. As for me I keep things to myself I hold everything in and I think that’s why I have so much anger and frustration. I wish all these people the best. And I glad I got to read this blog because it changes my way of thinking. People have many challenging situations and all we see is the face not what’s truly inside because we judge based of appearances like first time ever seeing or meeting them. This showed me something I can change in myself. Be more compassionate more understanding and open and not to be afraid to speak out. I am taking public speaking this summer. I hope this helps me because I am very shy and have a hard time talking infront of people.

    • Thank you Andrea. Your point is very well taken. We never know one’s full story yet often act as if we do. So many of have our demons in the closet that I really try to cut people slack when they portray undesireable behaviors. You will do GREAT in public speaking! It is going to be a blast. 🙂

  13. I love reading this blog. First congrats for creating a comfortable and safe place in your class that students feel free to open about very personal issues. This teach us how we can be very easy to judge people ,but sometimes we don’t take the time to discover what are behind each face. For me, people are like onions,,,, yes onions that you can start peeling layer by layer. There is not a single story on a individual. The problem with a single story is that it create stereotypes. We consist of so many stories overlapping. I am happy to read that your students are able to open up and share their stories. Stories are important. This students stories can be used to empower and humanize. Thanks for sharing with us this stories.

  14. Wow! I truly found myself compelled with this topic. I personally can related to this topic and how your speech classes play out. I was a quiet student in your summer speech class and I am a Lesbian, have been with my partner for over 3 years. We constantly have to fight for LGBT rights and not only rights but acceptance. The looks that we receive when we are in public holding hands could kill. But if they were to sit in a room with me and allow me to tell them my story. I am sure that they will see things a little different.
    While in your class, for the first time in any class, I felt strong emotions towards a student that was critiquing a speech just given. The speech was about illegal immigrants ( specifically Mexicans) who come to this country to better themselves and the struggle that they face. In his speech the student mentioned that his parents were once illegal before becoming citizens, so he personally knew the challenges that illegal Mexicans face. The critiquing student decide to put in her opinion, without being well informed of the sad reality. She stated “Well you mentioned that your parents are now citizens, doesn’t that make you angry that they had to fight to become citizens, and others are not even trying? If your parents were able to do it, I feel like all illegals should do it also?” That comment hit so close to home, My parents are illegal Mexicans, came to this country very young and have worked difficult labor jobs to better themselves and their children. They have inquired on becoming citizens. But it is not that easy, you can face deportation, jail time and a large amount of lawyer fees and be denied the opportunity to become citizens. Every case varies and not everyone is granted citizenship. I think if it was that easy our world’s percentage of immigrants would minimize. I was pretty angry when that comment was made, when someone speaks on a matter that they are not sure about, I always suggest to keep their mouth closed.
    One thing I learned an appreciate in this class was to always prepare an open mind to any topic or argument that may arise.

    • I think I can understand your anger in part. I would not minimize your reaction by stating I completely understand because I am not in your shoes. I do understand an emotional and visceral response to this, though I would hope one day you can feel centered enough on the issue to better educate and inform those like her…we need your voice on this important issue. I, for one, would have loved to have this conversation in the class. Thank you for your contribution on this blog!

  15. Reflecting on my summer semester, just ending today in your Elements of Public Speaking class, I have to honestly say, these past 5 weeks has been one of open vulnerability, a stoic, but supporting environment of encouragement, and overall so much individual growth was accomplished in this group setting. For me, when you get to incorporate and embrace the teaching environment that you provided Professor Urbanovich, public speaking becomes the platform for public declarations. Sexuality and speaking play such an integral role into our lives, both are tools of identification, self-realization, and self actualization. intertwined. A student who is a lesbian who can admit what revealing herself led to, a sexually molested/assaulted victim who can declare their pain, and a man who could confess he has been experimental in his sexual orientation are voices comfortable with who they are around and where they are at, to say.- This is happened to me, this is who I am. In a time where repression, social media conventional ism, and selectively being politically correct to accommodate reigns, it’s certainly wonderful that these students of differences were able to find common ground in vocalizing authenticity. Authentic experiences, painful or joyful-in release or regret stimulate change, acceptance, and turn the judgmental eye into a warm hug. What just happened is a level of a beautiful, accepting, and growing community of support, love, and truth.

    • Public Speaking and Sex? Hmmmmm…I guess both involve a certain amount of performance anxiety, vulnerability and repetition in order to do it well -not to mention both will likely involve good oral skills 🙂 Actually that is a REALLY interesting comparison and the way you have stated it, I should not have been at all surprised by such a class. Sexuality is deeply person, as is standing in front of a group of people to willingly be judged…both strike at the core of our essence. Thank you so much for your contribution Sungaya. It was such a treat having you in class.

  16. This story was very powerful. It’s hard for people to really open up about what’s going on in their lives to people they know and trust. But to a classroom? Even harder. I can’t imagine how it felt being there and feeling those connections to those people when hearing their stories. As someone who struggles with my own “stuff” I honestly don’t think I would have been able to sit through that. I mean, it’s powerful knowing the compassion given off by people, but I would start thinking about my own problems too much. However, this story gave me chills and I’m glad I took the time to read it.

  17. The title of this post immediately hooked me! I knew that reading this would give me a great read.
    The first thing I took away from this was the mention of a protest. I know that this occurred a few years back, but it seemed like the political climate still rings true for our present day. As the post went on, I couldn’t help but feel the ups and downs of this class conversation, as it was described to the reader. I could only imagine what it was like to be in that room as this was occurring. So many truths were spoken, and it seems that your class came together in unity by the drop of a dime. For me, being 100% online during COVID-19 has been a nightmare because I like human interaction. A sense of community and comradery was definitely missed for my summer course. It is also easier to hear critiques from those of which we personally have encountered. This post gave me two things: it made me have faith that a classroom community can provide such a great and safe environment for serious conversations, as well as remind me that class for me, really is not supposed to occur online. I cannot wait for us to head back to the classroom. Our DB assignments never proved to be this therapeutic.

  18. It must have been shocking, yet beautiful. I can only imagine what it felt like to be in that classroom. The first thing that came to mind after finishing this story is we need to love people more. We truly never know 100% what a person can be going through. Whether it’s a fellow student you just passed while going down the stairs or even the person you sit next to in class. It may be even your closest friend that is going through one of the craziest battles that life has thrown at them. This story really encouraged me to love people more. We never know who is going through the toughest time of their lives yet is stuck in their own head, not knowing what to do. It could range from the youngest person to the oldest. Often, those unspoken mental battles eventually always have to be expressed and they should be expressed in a healthy matter. Great story!

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